Best in Fiction
You may be shocked — perhaps even find it sacrilegious — that we’d name a paperback original as the year’s best novel, but at BOOKGASM, that’s how we roll. And so it goes with Max Allan Collins’ THE FIRST QUARRY. Perhaps the best offering yet from Hard Case Crime, it’s the novel that thrilled me to the bone (I leave it you to guess which one) like no other in 2008. Of all the authors I read regularly, here’s the guy who deserves to be selling 10 times whatever he does now.
Best in Fiction
1. SMALL CRIMES by Dave Zeltserman – Nothing like the bleakest ending of the year to top my list of great crime reads. This book is one gut punch after another and never lets up, which is why I’ve got nothing but high hopes for what Zeltserman comes up with next.
2. CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith – A book that started off the year really strong for crime fiction, this is definitely the one title that crosses genre lines with its literate tale of a Russian serial killer and the system that tries to stop him.
One supposes it was inevitable that James Bond be spun into the world of newspaper comics, as he was for nearly 30 years in England. That doesn’t mean it worked for all that time, as JAMES BOND: POLESTAR — the latest collection of these strips — shows.
POLESTAR is comprised of five original story arcs, all consecutive and from the 1980s. The first installment continues the proud 007 tradition of odd titles by being called “Flittermouse,” and it pits literature and film’s favorite superspy against a horde of vampire bats in a spooky old castle.
A sampling of some of the bizarro search terms with (thankfully) low numbers that brought people to BOOKGASM over the last 30ish days:
• head in a vagina
• werewolf porn
• evil big breasted women
• gas mask blow job
• how to get fast excited
As tends to happen annually, there are tons of reads I’m eagerly anticipating as the new year creeps toward our door. These may be the nine I most look forward to, but they’re certainly among the most notable, presented in chronological order.
STEPHEN KING GOES TO THE MOVIES by Stephen King — As has been made clear on this site time and time again, Stephen King movies are a guilty pleasure of ours, even when they’re not so hot. This paperback original collects five of the stories — “1408” and “Children of the Corn” included — with King himself discussing each in new introductions. His essays are always entertaining. Jan. 20
Contrary to popular belief (and my dreams), BOOKGASM is not my day job. (All that magic happens on nights and weekends, folks!) But at my day job as managing editor of Oklahoma’s largest and greatest alternative weekly, I review books, too. As it’s tough to write two reviews (much less one!), most of those titles never see ink here. But some deserve to, and here are seven — fiction and nonfiction — I covered there in 2008 that don’t deserve to go unnoticed here.
DREAM CITY by Brendan Short — Press materials for this debut novel use Michael Chabon’s Pultizer-winning THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY as a reference point, which immediately raised my skepticism. Yet, to my surprise, the comparison is not wholly unwarranted. Like that modern classic, Short’s story is a generations-spanning literary work infused with equal parts high drama and pop culture.
• THE EXCALIBUR MURDERS by J.M.C. Blair
• FREEZER BURN by D.H. Dublin
• THE VAMPIRE OF NEW YORK by Lee Hunt
• SUPERNATURAL: WITCH’S CANYON by Jeff Mariotte
• CURSE OF THE SPELLMANS by Lisa Lutz
• TIGERHEART by Peter David
• DARK DELICACIES II: FEAR edited by Del Howison and Jeff Gelb
And you? —Rod Lott
“Hulk smash!” is the war cry of comics’ not-so-jolly green giant, but it took getting him out of the four-color pages to see him really smash. ESSENTIAL RAMPAGING HULK: VOL. 1 collects the first 15 issues of Marvel’s 1970s black-and-white magazine starring The Hulk, and free of the Comics Code Authority, the difference in violence is tangible.
But it took a little time to find its footing. For the initial nine editions, writer Doug Moench enacted an ongoing storyline heavy on sci-fi, with Hulk befriending an alien woman named Bereet who wears a Mohawk-looking thing on her head that allows them to trip dimensions.
She’s back, pimpin’ out notable new releases to place on your radar!
FIDEL’S LAST DAYS by Ronald Merullo — Former CIA agent Carolina Perez has spent five years working deep undercover with a singular goal: to take down Castro and free Cuba from his troubled presence. Recruited by a powerful shadow organization known as the White Orchid, steely and sexy Carolina has passed test after test to prove herself ready for the ultimate assignment. Convinced of the rightness of her cause, she will do anything to complete her mission. That includes duping her uncle Roberto Anzar, a wealthy and influential player in Miami’s Cuban American community. But when suspicious details raise questions about her mysterious employer, not even Carolina is prepared for the elaborate web of deceit that surrounds her.
STAR WARS: LUKE SKYWALKER AND THE SHADOWS OF MINDOR by Matthew Stover — Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are dead. The Empire has been toppled by the triumphant Rebel Alliance, and the New Republic is ascendant. But Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian and their faithful comrades have had little time to savor victory before being called on to defend the newly liberated galaxy. Powerful remnants of the vanquished Empire, hungry for retaliation, are still at large, committing acts of piracy, terrorism and wholesale slaughter against the worlds of the fledgling New Republic. Another reign of darkness beneath the boot-heel of Sith despotism is something Gen. Luke Skywalker cannot, and will not, risk.
THE VAMPIRE AGENT by Patricia Rosemoor and Marc Paoletti — On the sultry streets of New Orleans, Capt. Scott Boulder and Leah Maguire are about to begin a deadly mission. The traumatized, genetically altered subjects of a Department of Defense experiment gone wrong have escaped, among them Rachel Ackart, a beautiful, seductive and powerful woman who is now under the dangerous influence of Andre Espinoza de Madrid, a vampire of incomparable evil and power. While Predator drones circle above New Orleans, and the sound of Black Hawk helicopters rends the air, Scott and Leah must fight their growing attraction to each other as they pursue their quarry amid the haunted and the damned.
STARFIST: WINGS OF HELL by David Sherman and Dan Cragg — Planet Haulover has been invaded by Skinks. Until now, the aliens’ existence has been kept confidential. But Force Recon’s shocking report leaves the Confederation no choice but to mount a military campaign and reveal to the public its biggest secret: the threat of fierce alien predators bent on human destruction. What’s no secret is that the four army divisions and two Marine FISTs sent to Haulover aren’t nearly enough to defeat the well-entrenched aliens, who have a tunnel system second to none. Back home, the Confederation’s president is being denounced as a warmonger bent on exterminating “harmless” aliens. And if she loses the upcoming elections, the Confederation will have a lot more Skinks than those on Haulover to worry about.
It’s tough times out there, and book-buying dollars are scarce. But there was some great science fiction published in 2008, even though some of the genre’s superstars (Ian McDonald, Richard K. Morgan) didn’t have any novels out this year. Making this list was more arduous than in years past, and in the interests of picking out five sure things for your sci-f spending cash or gift ideas, some great books were left off. But if you’ve got the lucre to spare, honorable mention goes out to Paul Melko’s SINGULARITY’S RING, Charles Stross’ SATURN’S CHILDREN and David Louis Edelman’s MULTIREAL. Here’s the top five: